IEC and nine other organizations call out DNR for weakening CAFO rules

posted on Friday, February 23, 2024 in Water and Land News

Coalition of groups criticize lack of improvement in rules intended to prevent water pollution 

DES MOINES, IA – Today, a coalition of ten environmental organizations submitted comments to the Iowa Department of Natural Resources (DNR), highlighting the inadequate protections for water quality in Iowa’s concentrated animal feeding operation (CAFO) rules. 

The comments were in response to draft rule changes for CAFO siting, which were weakened during the Govenor's preclearance process. Public comments on the draft rules close today at 4:30 p.m. IEC staff attorney Michael Schmidt attended a DNR public hearing to make comments in person on Feb. 14, and IEC submitted the coalition's written comments on February 23.  

The written comments highlighted that the proposed rules ignored DNR’s own experts, who stated that the rules needed to be stronger to protect water quality in vulnerable karst terrain. Records obtained by the Iowa Environmental Council (IEC) showed that the DNR proposed stronger rules to the governor’s office in October, which reportedly refused to allow the rules to proceed because they would not reduce regulatory burden, which was the stated goal of the governor’s Executive Order 10. 

The coalition submitting comments includes 10 organizations: Allamakee County Protectors - Education Campaign, Common Good Iowa, Des Moines County Farmers and Neighbors for Optimal Health, Environmental Law & Policy Center, Food & Water Watch, Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement, Iowa Environmental Council, Jefferson County Farmers and Neighbors, Poweshiek CARES, and the Socially Responsible Agriculture Project. 

The Iowa Environmental Council and Environmental Law & Policy Center previously petitioned DNR to adopt rules that would increase protections for karst terrain and increase water quality monitoring. The Environmental Protection Commission (EPC) denied the petition after DNR stated the agency would address the issue through a larger rulemaking.

“The refusal to adopt appropriate, scientifically-based, and protective rules will harm Iowans across the state,” said Michael Schmidt, Interim Executive Director and staff attorney for the Iowa Environmental Council. “Environmental regulation should not be about reducing burden, but preventing pollution of our rivers, lakes, and streams. These rules will perpetuate poor water quality.”  

The comments highlight the economic costs of pollution from CAFOs, including health care costs from increased cancer rates, water quality treatment costs, and recreational value. 

“Clean water provides many benefits, economic and otherwise, but these rules only serve polluters. They do not protect our land and water, and the Iowans who call this state home. These rules will continue to allow pollution that degrades our waterways,” said Alicia Vasto, IEC’s Water Program Director. “Iowa’s water quality is shameful, and the state is willfully ignoring the voices of all Iowans in this debate. They are missing a real chance to make meaningful, measurable progress.” 

Food & Water Watch Attorney Dani Replogle said: “Governor Reynolds’ reckless Executive Order is encouraging a rollback of regulations required to protect clean water from Iowa’s ubiquitous factory farms. These industrial animal factories are polluters by design — DNR knows this. A failure to protect Iowa’s unique karst regions from their excessive waste will only worsen Iowa’s water quality crisis. Governor Reynolds’ DNR must side with science and clean water and strengthen CAFO regulations in karst regions.”   

DNR undertook a lengthy process of rule revision and considering stakeholder comments, which was extended to incorporate requirements of Governor Reynolds’s Executive Order 10. The order, signed in January 2023, imposed a moratorium on formal rulemaking until agencies had reviewed existing rules and conducted a cost-benefit analysis. DNR completed the cost-benefit analysis in September 2023 based on draft rules that had stronger protections for water quality. The department did not update the analysis based on the weaker rules approved by the Governor’s office. 

Elements of Executive Order 10 are being considered as part of Senate File 2370. SF 2370 would codify changes to the agency rulemaking process under Iowa’s Administrative Procedure Act, such as pre-approval of rules by the governor’s office. The bill survived the legislature’s first “funnel” because it passed out of the Commerce Committee in the Senate. 

“It is frustrating to go through a years-long stakeholder process that ignores comments from the department’s own experts,” said Schmidt. “The DNR and Environmental Protection Commission need to put the public’s interests first, not the parties they regulate.” 

The rules will be on the agenda for a future meeting of the Environmental Protection Commission, whose members are directly appointed by Governor Reynolds. The rules will go into effect after approval by the EPC. 

Read the joint comments on IEC's website.  


  1. cafos
  2. clean water
  3. dnr
  4. karst
  5. water quality